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Best albums of 2023

Started by PH, Sun, 2024-02-04, 17:01:33

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Here we go again! It's been a while. The last "Best albums of ..." topic dates to 2021! :o
Time to make a 2023 version.
If I find the time, I might even go back and start topics of the missing years, just for the sake of it. Might be interesting to look back on those forgotten years!

But first things first:
What's your top 10 of 2023 releases?
And any honourable mentions after that?
Any albums you missed?
Disappointments? Surprising discoveries?
And what are some of the most anticipated releases and/or happenings for 2024?

Earlier "Best albums of..." topics:



My 2 cents...

1. Moon Safari - "Himlabacken, Vol. 2"
This album was a big surprise. It has never happened before that I listened to my number 1 release so late in a year. It's hard to say Moon Safari's "Himlabacken, Vol. 2" surpasses expectations, as I hadn't heard about this release as soon as I was able to listen to it. The band really even improved on Vol. 1 from ten years earlier. I hear influences from Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, Yes and lots more. There are even subtle nods to the '80s. I think this is a masterpiece. I think the best songs are the 20+ minute epic Teen Angel Meets The Apocalypse and the short but (sugary) sweet Blood Moon, but honestly, it's filled with only killer songs!

2. Haken - "Fauna"
I was really late to the party with this one, as it was released on 3 March 2023 and I really began listening to it properly in september or so. The thing is, I was afraid it would be a disappointment. "Vector" from 2018 was such a fantastic album that it was already unthinkable that "Virus" (2020) would reach that level (and I'd like to think I was right about that, although it was still a really good album). But on top of that, Diego Tejeida left the band and he was such a big part of their sound. All in all, there was no way "Fauna" was going to top those albums. But in the end, "Fauna" turns out to be only slightly less than those albums. I might even rate this on the same level as "Virus" (which in turn appeared to be my second favorite of the band anyway).

3. Mystery - "Redemption"
This album is so good. Like a typical Neo-Prog album it has wonderful melodies, great guitar solos, beautiful keyboards/synths. On top of that, there is a pretty fantastic singer! The album gives me nostalgia feelings as well. Am I the only one? My Inspiration, what a beautiful song...

4. Neal Morse - "The Dreamer - Joseph: Part One"
At first I was not really sure. This album is a strange one. To me it's somewhere between a musical album like "Jesus Christ: The Exorcist" and a prog album like "Sola Gratia" (which I consider a little bit of a disappointing Morse album). But after a while it really grew on me. Especially after having listened to the first and second part back to back.

5. TEMIC - "Terror Management Theory"
Members of Haken (keyboard player Diego Tejeida), The Neal Morse Band (guitar player Eric Gillette) and Maraton (singer Fredrik Bergersen). That piqued my interest! Very refreshing to hear Eric doing something else. And I think it was 2023 that I (finally) picked up on Maraton, of which their latest album is definitely coming up in the best of 2022 albums topic!

6. The Flower Kings - "Look At You Now"
It seems like a new Flower Kings album is no longer a big deal. I haven't heard much about it anyway. To me, this is another very nice Flower Kings album, and in fact, to me it sounds like a return to their earliest sound. I have not listened to this as much as I'd like. It might end up higher over time.

7. Ozric Tentacles - "Lotus Unfolding"
Ever since I listened to "Technicians Of The Sacred" back in 2015 I guess, I became extremely curious about new releases! "Space For The Earth" was alright, but "Lotus Unfolding" is right back at the game. And such beautiful artwork! Still have to dive into the backlog, but it's so intimidatingly large!

8. All My Shadows - "Eerie Monsters"
Wow! I am not familiar with Vanden Plas or with Andy Kuntz and/or Stephan Lill. I only know about them (and some of their side projects) by name. But somehow this album reached out to me. This is such a fun album. AOR, (Prog) Metal, (melodic) Hard Rock. I don't know, but it sounds great! I just can't get these songs out of my head. After the first five songs it drops off a bit, but the last song (there are nine) is a killer again. Phew! Gotta keep an eye on these guys. Hopefully it won't just be one album.

9. Riverside - "ID.Entity"
Some pretty nice songs on this one again. Unfortunately also a few bad ideas scattered around (all in my opinion of course). For instance, the lyrics feel a bit infantile at times, forced even. By the way, while I love Riverside and Lunatic Soul, I think Mariusz's (many) solo releases are bit boring... :(

10. Fish On Friday - "8mm"
Very pleasant album. It sounds like a continuation of their previous album. Funerals is a really beautiful song.

11. Lazuli - "Onze" (11)
In 2020 I was really glad to (finally) have discovered Lazuli with "Le Fantastique Envol De Dieter Böhm" and the compilation album "Dénudé" (re-recorded acoustic renditions of earlier songs). Lazuli's eleventh ('onze' in French) album is not as good, but still very pleasant.

Honourable mentions:
Zopp - "Dominion"
Nice Canterbury style music. Mostly instrumental.
D'Virgilio, Morse & Jennings - "Sophomore"
Pretty good actually. I was gonna include this in my top ten, but after listening to some of the other albums for the purpose of this topic I decided to leave it out.
Yes - "Mirror To The Sky"
Finally, a very listenable album by Yes once again.
Damanek - "Making Shore"
Another nice album by Guy Manning and co.
Karfagen - "Passage To The Forest Of Mysterious"
2023 saw multiple Antony Kalugin related releases: Karfagen's "Birds" (an instrumental 'remix' album of 2020's "Birds Of Passage") and "Dragon Island" (same treatment, but for "Echoes From Within Dragon Island" of 2019). And Sunchild's "Exotic Creatures And A Stolen Dream". And obviously also "Passage To The Forest Of Mysterious". All very pleasant, but also very alike. And I suffer from Kalugin fatigue...

Time for some vinegar. Here are some of my disappointments:
Not really a disappointment per se, as I kinda knew what to expect following "The Future Bites", but "The Harmony Codex" does absolutely nothing for me. People talked about a comeback after TFB, but I honestly cannot see why so many think Steven Wilson's latest album is such a masterpiece. To me it's only slightly better than TFB. I think Steven should listen carefully to his own The Sound Of Muzak again.

"16" by Einar Solberg is a disappointment for me. Initially I liked it, but that probably had got to do more with familiarity. A Leprous comparison is so obvious. Enthusiasm wore off quickly, unfortunately. It's predominantly vocal gymnastics. I really like two or three songs though!

Peter Gabriel's "i/o" is a minor disappointment. I was looking forward to the album and tried not to listen to all the singles. But in the end I am not really a PG solo fan after all. It's pleasant but there's not much happening.

Arjen Lucassen's Supersonic Revolution is also one of my disappointments. I bought "Golden Age Of Music" right away, but rarely listened to it. I don't regret buying it (I am a completionist!) and I really like the artwork. It was probably exactly the intention but it sounds so cliche. And Arjen already announced the next project... Have you heard it? Oh boy... ::) Will probably end up buying it anyway.

Oh and Roger Waters' "The Dark Side Of The Moon Redux" was doomed from the start.

I did not have enough time for Subsignal, The Ancestry Program, Pallas, Earthside, Galahad, Comedy Of Errors, RPWL, Lumsk, Jethro Tull, TesseracT, Voyager, Redemption, Lalu, Kamelot, Katatonia, Agusa, Glass Hammer and probably a lot more...

The future
I'm already enjoying Neal Morse's "The Restoration - Joseph: Part Two", Caligula's Horse's "Charcoal Grace" and Emerald City Council's "Motion Carries".
Then there's ANOTHER Karfagen album released already... I've heard Big Big Train will release their first proper studio album since the untimely passing of David Longdon. I saw Frost* are busy again. And of course Dream Theater WITH Portnoy, could be interesting!

What a lenghty post! :D I'm sorry!


Just now I counted my top ten and found out that it's actually a top eleven. ;D
But I like it that way.


Good idea PH, could have been mine ;). 2023 was a rather good prog year. Here are my favourite albums:

1. Moon Safari - Himlabacken Vol. 1
I agree with you PH, was blown away by this album. Beautiful harmony vocals, uplifting symphonic music, a number of great solos, epics, goosebumps so now and then. Also my number 1 8).

2. Subsignal - A Poetry Of Rain
I was expecting a lot from this album and was not disappointed. Favourite track: Marigold. Going to see them live on 19th April in Hengelo. It's been a long time wish to see them live, can't wait *horns*.

3. Soen - Memorial
This band always delivers quality. Though the tracks are sounding 'bit of the same', it never gets boring imo. Probably will attent their gig on 4th October in Nijmegen.

4. Overhead - Telepathic Minds
A stunning album from this Finnish band. The title track and 'War To End All Wars' are so beautiful. Recommended!

5. Mystery - Redemption
I always order their new albums in advance and never regret is. Beautiful keyboard-oriented neo-prog, though the guitars are present enough as well.

6. Riverside - ID.Entity
Not my favourite release of them, but a fine album it is. Favourite track is 'Big Tech Brother', which is fading out way too soon ;).

7. Neal Morse - The Dreamer ~ Joseph: Part One
Where does he get all his inspiration from? Never a weak album, a great story too. But I have to say that I like the second part more.

8. Steve Lukather - Bridges
Not that proggy, but the Toto guitarist builds a bridge between Toto and his solo albums. Can't go wrong, certainly not for a Toto fan like me.

9. Steve Thorne - Malice In Plunderland
Also more pop than prog. I own all his album and I have to say that I had to play this one very often to really like it. Most of the time those are the best albums, but you have to find the time. There is so much great music.

10. Bruce Soord - Luminescence
The frontman of The Pineapple Thief with a very personal and great album.

Honourable mentions:
Comedy Of Errors - Threnody For A Dead Queen
RPWL - Crime Scene
The Foundation - Mask

Mariusz Duda - Afr AI D and I've heard better music from Pattern Seeking Animals ...

Indeed, The Restoration - Joseph: Part Two is excellent, expecting a lot from the new Pineapple Thief album which will be released at the end of this week. IQ is busy in the studio and like PH also looking forward to a new Frost* album.
'I will surrender my heart to the sky
Oh, our love doesn't end here, it lives forever on the wings of time'
Toto - Wings of time (Kingdom of Desire)


My ten favourites in random order: Giant Sky, Dream The Electric Sleep, Mystery, Galahad, Pallas, Bend The Future, Peter Gabriel, Steve Wilson (skipped the previous two but this album did lure me back), Blackbriar and Dominic Sanderson.

Also really enjoyed: Exploring Birdsong (Ep), Pendragon (Ep), Hackberry, Pledge of Healing, Marek Arnold (Artrock Project), Edward Reekers (Liberty Project), Downes Braide Association, Cyan, Tiger Moth Tales, Karmamoi, John Lönmyr, Jordsjø, Dave Kerzner, Madlen Keys, Black Cat's Eye, Residuos Mentales, Lumsk, Seven Reizh...

Best reissue: the Camel box set Air Born, what a feast. And also David Longdon - Wild River, Fish - 13th Star and Marillion - Seasons End.

Particularly look forward to the new Big Big Train album and also the BBT weekend at the Boerderij in September.
We stare at our screens
All our lives
What a waste of eyes..